Death and Regeneration in Walt Whitman's Poem, When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloom'd
Whitman in 1865 wrote an elegy for President Lincoln entitled "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." The "Lilacs" elegy is an outpouring of the deep sense of loss that Whitman felt after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The President's death was a great shock to the poet; it overwhelmed him in a very personal way. Whitman recognized Lincoln's excellence and importance.
When Whitman first heard of the assassination, it was the spring of the year and the lilacs were in bloom. The poem is heavily symbolic. In this first section, Whitman introduces two of the three central symbols used in development. The poet appears in company with the "Lilac blooming" and the "drooping star." The lilac represents love as well as resurrection and rebirth. The star symbolizes the slain Abraham Lincoln and comes to symbolize, also, the poet's heavy grief for him. The star, or Lincoln, once celestial and shining like a strong guide to those beneath it, has now "droop'd early." Lincoln is dead, fallen like a great and radiant body from the heavens.
The idea of death is constantly woven in with the theme of rebirth throughout the poem. The poet mourns and "shall mourn" with the arrival of spring. Spring, with its character of rebirth and life, will bring reminders of the dead Lincoln - "thought of him I love."
"When Lilacs Last" is an elegy on the death of Abraham Lincoln as well as a philosophical poem on death itself. Through the symbolic use of a star, a lilac, and a bird, the poet journeys through grieving love to a final acceptance...